President Rody Duterte was standing on a podium fielding questions from reporters shortly after arriving from Vietnam at about 12:30 a.m. Nov. 12 when I nudged Finance Secretary Carlos “Sonny” Dominguez who was seated beside me in the front row and asked: “Did you even believe before that this guy would become President?”
“Never!,” he said, laughing.
Sonny Dominguez, a childhood friend of Rody Duterte, acted as chair of an informal group which initiated the move to convince the then Davao City Mayor to consider running for the Presidency.
While the group consisting of now Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, Sonny’s brother Paul, now Peace Adviser Jess Dureza, now Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, now Cabinet Secretary Jun Evasco and a few others minor players including myself was hopeful that he would agree, it was not until he filed his Certificate of Candidacy as substitute candidate in November of 2016 did it become certain that Rody Duterte would run for the Presidency.
A little over 16 months later, the rural mayor who became the first “outsider” from Mindanao to become President, is slowly but surely rising as a leader whose influence would transcend the national boundaries of the Philippines.
The expletives and the cussing are less now in his public speeches as he slowly gets the feel of the Presidency.
It was in the last seven days starting with the 3-day APEC Forum in Vietnam and ending with the 4-day ASEAN Summit in Manila that the world saw the dramatic transformation of Rodrigo Roa Duterte from a cussing City Mayor to a rising world leader who could play an important role in shaping the world for the next generation.
In Vietnam, he met with Russia’s Vladimir Putin on Nov. 9 in a lengthy and substantive bilateral talks.
I was present during the meeting and I sensed the respect that President Putin had for President Duterte.
The meeting was historic because it marked a major step in the realization of the Philippines “Free and Independent Foreign Policy.”
The talks led to the holding later of bilateral meetings at the level of the Department of Agriculture which I handled here in Manila with Russian Agriculture Deputy Minister Evgeny Gromyko and could lead to the opening of major agricultural trade engagements between Russia and the Philippines.
In another major breakthrough in the bilateral meeting Nov. 11 with China’s President Xi Jin Ping which I also attended, President Duterte succeeded in working on the drafting of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea where several countries lay claim to islands in the vast seas.
Back in the country from Vietnam, President Duterte showed exemplary leadership in hosting one of the most organized and well-managed international meet which gathered so many world leaders including American President Donald Trump, Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, South Korean President Moon Jae In and several others.
With President Trump, President Duterte’s actions and statements reassured America that all is well with the Philippines, its oldest ally in Asia.
That was reciprocated by President Trump with an assurance that it will not treat its allies as satellite territories of America, a commitment that no doubt meant a huge victory for President Duterte in his quest to gain the respect of other countries.
But for those who attempted to display arrogance by lecturing President Duterte on local issues and affairs, they learned, as did Canadian President Justin Trudeau, that the “good old days” when Western countries virtually breathed down the neck of developing countries are over.
In seven days, Rodrigo Duterte underwent a dramatic transformation from a rural mayor to a world leader whose views, including the North Korean nuclear issue, are sought by other world leaders.
Sonny Dominguez was only half right when he said he did not believe Rody Duterte would become President.
The other unbelievable half actually is how a cussing rural mayor has metamorphosed into a leader the rest of the world would listen to.